As someone who does not have the gift of music (whether playing an instrument or singing), I have an appreciation for listening to others who do. I enjoy listening to music from many different genres, styles, and eras. Sometimes, it’s the music that catches my ear, and other times it is the message of the lyrics that I appreciate.
One skill that impresses me is when songwriters find a way to capture something that fits the message and the meter of the song, but in a way that I would not have thought of. Some of the classic Broadway writers (Gershwin, Rogers & Hammerstein, etc.) did a great job of this. Although this might be an unusual example, I think that the parody artists (whether “Weird Al” Yankovic or Tim Hawkins) find ways to fit new words into an existing song, and often tell a pretty detailed story at the same time.
Sometimes, we might just hear a song on the radio, or in the background somewhere, but when we start to listen to the lyrics, we find that the author was really innovative in how he or she said something. We discover a clever turn of phrase, or a creative way to get the lines to rhyme while still getting the message across. (Or, maybe you don’t do that and it’s just me.)
As it turns out, well-written lyrics aren’t new. Paul, who sometimes got a little caught up in how great Jesus is (which is not a bad thing), wrote the following in a letter to Timothy:
Beyond all question, the mystery from which true godliness springs is great:
He appeared in the flesh,
was vindicated by the Spirit,
was seen by angels,
was preached among the nations,
was believed on in the world,
was taken up in glory.
1 Timothy 3:16 NIV
Here, as Paul gets wrapped up in testifying, it seems that he is including a poem or maybe an early hymn here. The Bible doesn’t include the music (if there was even a melody at all) to go along with these words, but when God inspired Paul to include them, He knew that they were important to preserve for future generations . These “lyrics” describe a great mystery that had been revealed in the first century, after God’s plan had been leading up to the “big reveal” for millennia.
Remember, a “mystery” in that era didn’t necessarily mean something that could never be understood. More like a mystery novel or a Hallmark Channel movie, a mystery in Paul’s day was something that not everyone knew the answer to, but some people could definitely figure it out. For centuries, the Jewish people were waiting for a Messiah, and even when Jesus came, He didn’t look like what they had expected. The “mystery” of how they would be saved had finally been shown to the world (although God knew the plot all along). Regrettably, for those who didn’t pay attention to the key chapter of history, they were left in the dark.
What was the answer to the great mystery? What is the heart of the message that righteous elders and other leaders in the church must faithfully teach and cultivate in the souls that they are shepherding? Well, that’s captured in the content of this hymn. In my own words:
- Jesus came as a human being.
- He was raised from the dead.
- His work was witnessed by angels.
- The good news about Him is preached around the world (even to Gentiles like me).
- People everywhere are believing in Him.
- He was raised back to Heaven and given authority.
Nobody saw that coming!
From lesson prepared for September 20, 2020.
- Christian Standard, Volume CLV, Number 9, pages 91-92. © 2020 Christian Standard Media.
- Scripture taken from the Holy Bible, NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION®, NIV® Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.® Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.
- The College Press Commentary, 1, 2 Timothy & Titus, by C. Michael Moss. Ph. D. College Press Publishing Company, © 1994.